Theroux' first juvenile is as mood-sure and suitably populated as his adult fiction, a small enchantment set in an imprecise New England past. Narrated by Marcel, now grown, it recreates the Christmas when he was nine and his family, en route to a new beach house, became lost in a snowstorm. In desperation they enter the only lighted house in the vicinity and find a buoyant, slightly mysterious but friendly man (""Call me Pappy"") who welcomes them warmly, puts them up for the night, and alludes to his only companions--people in paintings on the wall. In the morning he is gone along with all traces of the previous night, especially the grand fire that greeted them; their only souvenir is an almost invisible Christmas card which they eventually realize pictures Pappy's house and the road to their own. Through the holiday the card scene changes periodically. Marcel and his younger brother recognize that the card mirrors the reality of Pappy's whereabouts--a magical touch which Theroux handles with delicacy and finesse. Pappy ultimately reclaims the card, a gesture which Marcel can appreciate even though his skeptical father can't. A Christmas treat, elegantly and expertly crafted, which all ages can share.